I’ve been in Thailand for 18 days. I have published zero posts and have had only three official work days. I’m sorry, friends! Instead of posting, I’ve eaten my body weight in Khao Soi, hiked through a cave lit only by enflamed bamboo, played drinking games with a shaman, attempted to ride a motorbike without killing myself (did not go so well), kayaked through the jungle, danced my heart out in Bangkok, bathed these miraculous creatures called elephants, and earned my first dollars from my blog. As I write this, I’m lounging on a teak deck in a little northern Thai town called Pai, writing with a view of rolling mountains with a white buddha statue nestled in the horizon, while listening to my Airbnb host play his guitar. Life is good. Thanks for being so patient with me.
I told myself before I left that I was going to prioritize travel. The experiences, the people, and the feelings and emotions I’m having will all come before writing, partnerships and any type of work. So far, they have. By the time I have a work day, I’m ready for alone time, in the mood to write and prepped for reflection.
I’ve made many two-day friends, have learned a few words and phrases in Thai (my favorite being, Tai Rub Lo Dai Mai Ka – Can I take your picture?), and figured out that I think I like being an expat better than a traveler. I have learned to start playing cards when I’m sick of talking and that having a consistent coffee stand to find my morning brew makes me infinitely happy. I’ve held onto the notion that a smile goes a long way and that my bargaining skills just aren’t very effective when I know that dollar means way more to the person trying to earn it than it does to me.
Blogging & Travel
SO it turns out, blogging and traveling at the same time is really hard, friends! I mean, I must have known it would be. But SERIOUSLY! There are just so many fun things to do and so many new people to meet. I still have no idea how these bloggers who travel full time also find time to post 3x a week. How do they write, edit photos, stay active on social media and actually experience the places they are visiting IN ORDER? No idea. Superbloggers.
I’ve figured out that if I need a work day, it will only happen if I intentionally plan no activities and find a place to lock myself away for the entire day. In Bangkok, a few pressing deadlines and getting sick of the backpacker-ville of Khao San Road pushed me into a solo room in a hostel. I was thankful for the delicious Thai restaurant that I could spend hours at, determining my spice tolerance and typing away (and okay, watching the cockroaches and cat-sized rats pass me by…still getting used to that).
I have, however, started earning money – actual US dollars – via this blog for the first time this month. I would scream and jump and run around telling everyone if I didn’t think that a) it would jinx future business and b) I actually wanted people to like me. So to you, my friends, I can say, WOOOOO!!! Next round is on me!
And *I promise* to get better at this posting thing. I can’t say my posts will always be in chronological order, but they will come.
It’s only been a few weeks, but its the very first time that I’ve really done this solo travel thing. Overall, it’s pretty freaking awesome. Don’t worry, friends who are coming to visit, I am still very excited to see you! I’m thriving on the challenge and complexity of figuring it all out on my own and I’m intoxicated with the open freedom. I’m also so thankful for Riikka and Aino. On my two day flight, with sixteen actual in-air hours and seven stuck in the Moscow airport (where I eventually snuck my backpack which is apparently not a carry-on onto the airplane), I was also really sick. I slept the entire way.
During the last hour of the flight I woke up and felt so much better, physically, but was starting to get nervous about landing in Bangkok. I’m always the most stressed out about getting from the airport to my hotel.
I began chatting with the blonde girl sitting next to me and learned that she too was heading to Khao San Road and was meeting a friend at the airport. This Finnish angel invited me to join her and her best friend. Thank you, Riikka and Aino, for taking care of me those first two days. For inviting me to share a cab, for including me in absolutely everything you did, and for walking me home at night after having to wait out a thunderstorm. You guys helped me get started on this solo adventure. I will be sure to pay it forward.
Things I absolutely love about solo travel?
Doing whatever I want. Moving on when I’m done with a place. Meeting so many people because solo travelers are apparently people magnets. Learning to trust my instinct – and feeling it stronger than I ever have. Feeling the strength and empowerment of just saying, “yes, I’m traveling alone”. Getting adopted by a South African family in the middle of the Thai jungle.
Things I don’t love about solo travel?
Having to withhold trust more than I typically do. Walking alone at night (sorry, guys, it just has to happen sometimes). Having to talk, a lot because I’m not yet used to silence with strangers. Paying for a single rather than splitting a double. Dealing with uncomfortable experiences alone. Solo shots – but how else would we know that I was acutally there?
Expat vs. Backpacker vs. Traveler
A.K.A Who am I?
I’m an identity nerd. I blame Teach For America and the past five years reflecting on who I was as a white Jewish woman in the education world. Still, I am always rethinking about what defines me. The things that defined me at home are so different than the things that define me here. I spend my time differently, talk about different things and, mostly, surround myself with people I would never have met back at home.
But the matter that has been most complicated for me, is understanding who I am as a traveler. I’ve been in hostels with elephant-pant wearing backpackers. I’ve spent swanky nights out enjoying cocktails that cost more than they do at home. I’ve explored the digital nomad capital and gotten invitations to hang with both expats and locals. However, I’m just not sure who I really am as a traveler right now.
I’m constantly moving (well, not as fast as others, but fast for me), and crave consistency when I get to a new place. I felt so oddly sad to leave my mango and coffee vendors when I left my first hostel. I turn my nose up at dirty beds, but want to stay in hostels that are super social (I’ve come to realize many of the social hostels are usually some of the cheapest, but not the cleanest). I’m doing new activities almost every day, sightseeing more than I ever have yet don’t feel like I’m even scratching the surface of local culture.
Does it matter? I don’t think so. I’m just a traveling mut.
Local and Authentic Experiences
It’s incredibly easy to stay on this backpacker trail. Everything, especially in Thailand, is mass produced for the millions of tourists that come through every year. It’s packaged nicely and wrapped up with a bow. I like my movies like that – but not my exotic experiences. Even though I’ve definitely felt that I’ve chosen wisely with the tours that I’ve picked, as each has felt unique and educational, I do feel pretty far from true Thailand.
I also know I’m going to be so upset with myself at the end of this trip if I don’t have the type of local experiences that inspire me travel in the first place. So, I’m going to force myself to do a workaway or couchsurf after my friends leave and I’m writing it here to hold myself accountable. SLOW TRAVEL, remember, Emily? Off-the-beaten-path, here I come.
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